Jesup congregations join to serve community


A sweet potato drop was the culmination of the Love Your Neighbor week’s events. More than 200 volunteers bagged and distributed more than 20,000 sweet potatoes. Photo courtesy of Rev. Melissa Traver

By Kara Witherow, Editor

In Matthew 28, Jesus issued the Great Commission to his disciples: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations …”

Three congregations in Jesup acted on that command last month when they joined together to serve their community in a “Love Your Neighbor: A Week of Methodist Service” outreach event.

A partnership of Jesup First United Methodist Church, Epworth United Methodist Church, and Emory Chapel United Methodist Church, the Love Your Neighbor week was born out of a desire for congregations to move beyond the comforts of the church facilities into the community and to serve God by serving others.

“It’s vital that we get outside our church building,” said Rev. Tucker Lewis, pastor of Jesup First UMC. “We have to get out where people are, where we can meet people, and where they can see us doing something.”  

The week, planned in advance of Hurricane Matthew, was scheduled for Oct. 9 through Oct. 15, but the hurricane, as it did for so many, shifted plans a bit.

On Thursday, Oct. 6, Jesup First UMC was contacted by the local Emergency Management Agency and asked to open as a hurricane shelter. The next morning, volunteers welcomed their first guests, a mother and son seeking safer shelter than their mobile home. By dark, the shelter had reached capacity.

“(Opening as a shelter) was unplanned, but what a way to start,” Rev. Lewis said of the Love Your Neighbor week.

During the week, members of the three congregations participated in several outreach projects: a prayer journey, praying at different locations throughout town; writing notes to shut-ins and college students; assembling care bags for residents in the local nursing home; building picnic tables at an Easter Seals house; taking food trays to first responders; and bagging and distributing more than 20,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.

The week was a great time to come together as one body to collectively do something good for the community, said Rev. Vicki Scott, pastor of Emory Chapel UMC.

“I think it’s vitally important that we as congregations and churches be involved with the community and address the needs of our community,” she said. “We are three United Methodist churches in one place, so we wanted to come together as one Church to present a unified front as United Methodists.”

Rev. Melissa Traver, pastor of Epworth UMC, was amazed at how the congregations and community came together to make the potato drop a success. Coordinated through the Society of St. Andrew, the potato drop was the culmination of the Love Your Neighbor week’s events. 

Early on Saturday morning, Oct. 15, 200 volunteers bagged more than 20,000 pounds of gleaned sweet potatoes in a blazing 45 minutes. Nearly half of the volunteers were from the community and not associated with the three churches.

“This was a grand adventure of faithfulness,” Rev. Traver said of the potato drop. “We wanted to come together, but we also wanted to inspire the community to come together.”

Morgan’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Townsend received 75 bags for its food bank; Darien United Methodist Church received more than 50 bags for its feeding ministry, Charlie’s Place; Sparrow’s Nest in Brunswick received 150 bags; and hundreds of bags were distributed in and around Jesup.

The week’s activities were an opportunity to step outside the confines of a church building and to show Christlike love in action, said Rev. Scott.

“Our commission is to make disciples,” she said. “When we look at Jesus’ command he says, ‘Go,’ not ‘stay,’ so if we want to make disciples we have to be in action and we have to go.”